Massachusetts Early Learning Framework

Early Learning in Massachusetts – an Overview

The US state of Massachusetts has two sets of early learning standards – one covering children aged from zero to 2.9; then another from that age to 5.5 years. Educa includes both guideline sets for linking to observations, plans and/or teacher reflections.

Massachusetts Early Learning Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers

The Massachusetts Early Learning Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers gives a comprehensive view about the infants’ and toddlers’ development and documents experiences supporting that. 

The guidelines focus on relationships between all significant people in the child’s world. As well, the document was developed noting the importance of males’ and females’ interactions with children. The guidelines have also been translated into Spanish – that’s part of the guidelines’ aim to support dual-language children and families.

What’s in the guidelines?

The guidelines cover separate sections for infants (birth to
15 months); toddlers (12 months to 36 months) and best practices. It goes into depth about children’s development in the areas of socio-emotional, language, communication, cognitive, physical health and wellbeing.


The goals of the guidelines are to:

  • Reflect values inherent in a strength-based approach
  • Incorporate new research on brain development
  • Recognize relationships as for infants’/toddlers’ development and learning across all developmental domains
  • Communicate the interrelated nature of development domains
  • Describe how programs and educators can best support and interact with infants and toddlers
  • Create a learning continuum linking early education and care to later success in school and life by aligning guidelines for infants/toddlers/preschool and the kindergarten curriculum frameworks.

Guiding principles

The touchstones – or principles – for the guidelines are:

  • The family, as defined by each culture, is the primary support system for the child’s development
  • Learning is embedded in the child’s culture. Young children learn best through a comprehensive, whole-child approach integrated in culturally meaningful experiences.
  • Nurturing, respectful and responsive relationships are essential for healthy growth and development, giving a context for learning
  • Each child develops at an individual rate and has a personal approach to learning
  • Rich, responsive language experiences in the family’s home language when possible, prime children for later academic success
  • Play is the foundation of early learning
  • Learning in each domain is interconnected
  • Informed, reflective, curious adults can support and respond to infants’ and toddlers’ rapidly changing needs and development
The guidelines are not for:
  • Assessing young children’s competence
  • Mandating specific teaching practices/materials
  • Stopping children from transitioning into preschool or kindergarten
  • Excluding groups of children due to disabilities/home language
  • Overruling the EEC Child Care Regulations which came into force January 2010

Massachusetts Guidelines for Preschool Learning Experiences

As for children aged 2.9, they’re considered to be preschoolers, which is when the Guidelines for Preschool Learning Experiences come into play. Educators use these to plan and evaluate curriculum for children in preschool and kindergarten. The guidelines have been operating since 2003 and detail guided learning in English language arts, mathematics, science and technology/engineering, history and social science, health education and the arts. It also gives adaptations for children with disabilities.

The seven principles of the Guidelines for Preschool Learning are:

  • All young children are capable of learning
  • Children show individual differences in development
  • Knowledge of child growth and development is essential for program development and implementation
  • Children’s language skills are the best predictors of academic success
  • Developmental domains are highly interrelated
  • Young children learn by doing
  • Families are the primary caregivers and educators of their young children

Curriculum documents

Meanwhile, curriculum and learning standards for childcare educators can be downloaded here. The

EEC Learning Standards and Curriculum Guidelines focus on helping educators meet children’s needs including supporting social, emotional and academic development.

There are six key documents for educators:

  • Preschool and Kindergarten Standards in Social-Emotional Development and Approaches to Play and Learning here
  • Guidelines for Preschool Learning Experiences here  
  • Early Childhood Program Standards for 3 and 4 Years Olds  here
  • Massachusetts Early Learning Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers here 
  • Pre-K Science, Technology and Engineering Standards here
  • The Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for PreK-12 here

Importantly, the guidelines and standards help set a path for children to learn in:

  • Content areas (eg English, maths, science, social studies), and
  • Development domains (language, cognitive, socio-emotional).

In 2016, the Board of Early Education and Care approved the WIDA Early English Development Standards (E-ELDS) for children aged 2.5 to 5.5 years and the Social and Emotional Learning and Approaches to Play and Learning Standards (SEL/APL) for preschool and kindergarten children. These are available in multiple languages.

The E-ELDS aligns with WIDA K-12 Standards to serve dual language learners and corresponds to the Early Learning Standards. You can download the Dual Language Education Policies and Guidelines here (issued June 2010). Also, the E-ELDS aligns to the K-12 ELD Standards framework. This means it works in with the latter’s components.

According the Massachusetts Department of Early Education & Care, the E-ELD framework components has:

  • Six language standards – it includes the physical development one
  • Two language domains (receptive and expressive)
  • Three age clusters (2.5 – 3.5 years; 3.5 to 4.5 years; and 4.5 to 5.5 years)
  • English language development (three levels)
  • Performance definitions (two language criteria)
  • Model performance indicators (three elements)
Educa is easy-to-use software that works on computers and mobile devices, designed specifically for early learning services. It replaces:
  • emails and mass email services like Constant Contact
  • Facebook pages and websites
  • photo-sharing apps
  • paper notices
  • paper scrapbooks or portfolios
  • paper documentation – plans, daily reports

Massachusetts QRIS

The Massachusetts Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) came into force in March 2011. It’s a framework to organise the functions of the early childhood and afterschool care systems and covers career ladders, financial incentives, professional development and technical assistance.

The QRIS is voluntary and has four levels – one to four. Level 1 is awarded to center-based providers of childcare licensed in “good standing” or who meet the licensing requirements if legally exempt. 

The five indicators of quality are:

  • Curriculum and learning
  • Safe, healthy, indoor and outdoor environments
  • Educators’ workforce qualifications and professional development
  • Family and community engagement
  • Leadership, management and administration.

*Note: Educa includes the Massachusetts Early Learning Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers and the Massachusetts Guidelines for Preschool Learning Experiences by default. Early learning programs in MA can simply check a box to enable one of both frameworks for their center to support planning and documentation requirements.

Useful links:

Early Learning Challenge 2016 Final Performance Report (issued June 2017)

Massachusetts’ Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) laws and regulations

A Blueprint for Investing in Our Future – MassSenate

MA Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS)

See other state, province and country framework overviews here